Religion news 7 May 2024

Songs of Praise: Festival of Flowers, Arundel Cathedral, with Katherine Jenkins & the Duke of Norfolk. Image credit: courtesy BBC

BBC commissioners “remain committed to religious content”

BBC executives in charge of religious programming have given an assurance that the BBC is still committed to religious content and there are no plans to move programmes from linear to online platforms. In an interview with the Church Times, Tim Pemberton, the Head of Religion and Ethics for BBC Audio, and Daisy Scalchi, Commissioning Editor, Specialist Factual BBC, answered questions raised about the future of religious broadcasting, as the Media Bill goes through Parliament. This removes the obligation for public service broadcasters to cover the genres of arts, science and religion and there have been fears expressed that this will lead to fewer religious programmes being commissioned. The BBC’s remit is set out in its Charter, up for renewal from 2027, and operating license. Daisy Scalchi said Ofcom would continue to count the number of hours of religious programming. Within the BBC, she said the understanding of religion as an essential part of the public-service remit had increased. BBC Budgets were squeezed, so every programme commissioned had to go across all platforms. Ms Scalchi said the need for religious literacy is more important than ever: “Whether you have a faith or not, it is essential to good social cohesion that we understand different belief systems, different faiths, particularly on the global stage, where the numbers and that overall picture is quite distinct from what’s happening here in the UK.”

Politicians on stage as Orthodox in Russia and Ukraine celebrate Easter

Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter this weekend, later than western churches, as they follow a different calendar. In Ukraine, President Zelensky, who is Jewish, spoke outside Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv and said “God has a chevron with the Ukrainian flag on his shoulder. With such an ally, life will definitely win over death”. It is 802 days since the Russian invasion and the President urged people to pray for each other and soldiers on the front line. In Moscow, President Putin attended the service at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, led by Patriarch Kirill, who prayed for the protection of the sacred borders of Russia and the hope that God would halt the strife between Russia and Ukraine. In an Easter message, Putin thanked Kirill for “fruitful cooperation in the current difficult period” as efforts are united for the development and strengthening of the fatherland. Guardian report here

Pope sends message to thousands of Alpha evangelical leaders at the Royal Albert Hall

Around 4,500 evangelicals are attending the Leadership Conference from Alpha, the course on Christianity based at Holy Trinity Brompton, which is being held at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 6 and 7 May. Others are joining online, with the total audience representing 66 countries. Yesterday the programme included a greeting from Pope Francis, who told them that true leadership is centred on service for the life of the other, leading and guiding others to God. He said: “The good leader is fruitful, builds community and works with others”. Kate Forbes from the SNP was interviewed and historian Tom Holland was on stage in conversation with evangelist Amy Orr Ewing, on ten Christian leaders who changed the world. In a session on top tips for high performing teams, Dr. Rebecca Newton said “psychological safety is feeling safe to voice your opinion, take risks, and be yourself without fear of judgment or reprisal in a team”. The content is tweeted/posted from people at the conference. There are no media passes.

The “enormous subsuming influence” of Holy Trinity Brompton

The power and influence of Holy Trinity Brompton is examined in a three-part series on the blog “Surviving Church”. In the first article, author Hatty Calbus reports on “the enormous, subsuming influence it has acquired” and the way it is influencing the wider Church of England. With a budget of £10 million and 28 curates, HTB has “planted” offshoots through the Church Revitalisation Trust, aided by massive donations from wealthy individuals such as Sir Paul Marshall, and grants from the Church of England. She says for one parish to have such great influence on the wider church through wealth is problematic.  In the second article, she  reviews the influence of the Hillsong mega church and its interaction with HTB, noting fabulous wealth and sex scandals associated with at least four leaders. She says HTB leaders are not known for ostentatious wealth but their “top-public-school ease with wealth” makes them at ease with megachurch “marketized evangelicalism”. Article three is yet to be published. “Surviving Church” is edited by the Rev Stephen Parsons, who says: “It is not necessary to agree with all the conclusions of these three articles to realise that any church or network exercising so much institutional power needs to face challenge and questioning. Is the wider CofE really prepared to allow HTB to define such things as clerical formation, liturgical practice and the necessary skills associated with pastoral work?” He says  that for a substantial number of clergy, their only experience of church is what they have learned from the HTB network: “Traditional Anglicanism is for them unfamiliar territory and they may find it hard to operate within the pastoral/liturgical roles which have existed in England for several centuries”.

Why growth in non-religion does not mean more atheists

Two sociologists of religion have found that people in America adopt atheism when they are wealthy and less likely to be around people who view atheism negatively. Non-religion has increased to 30 per cent of the US population, but only 17 per cent of these are atheists, equivalent to 4 per cent of the total population. Christopher P. Scheitle and Katie Corcoran, from West Virginia University, cite earlier research suggesting “many Americans eye atheists with suspicion and distaste”.  In their own research, they report half of those who say they do not believe in God identified as atheist due to the stigma and social cost of coming out. 72 per cent of people who identify as extremely liberal politically do not believe in God, compared to 39 per cent of extremely conservative people. Their research also indicates each rise in income from one level to another on an 11-point scale. increases the odds of adopting an atheistic worldview by about 5 per cent. They suggest having a higher income gives existential security and reduces the need to believe in supernatural forces. Other findings are that only two per cent of people who had strong conviction of God aged 16, went on to become atheists. Black, Asian and Hispanic Americans were less likely to later identify as an atheist than white individuals. Their research was partly funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Government’s antisemitism adviser to meet Green Party over councillor  allegations

Lord John Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, is meeting the Green Party this week to discuss allegations of antisemitism. It follows comments from newly elected Leeds councillor Mothin Ali, filmed on Twitter / X, describing his victory as a “win for the people of Gaza” and shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is great), after his election win was confirmed, with supporters raising a Palestinian flag behind him. Simon Myerson KC, chair of the Leeds Jewish Representatives Council, wrote to the Green Party’s leaders to ask them to suspend Councillor Ali. A Green Party spokesperson has confirmed they are investigating and would not condone anything that extols violence.  The Times reports several incidents relating to Green candidates and antisemitism during this election campaign.

Hundreds of Muslim men forced to pray in parking lots in Italy

Hundreds of Muslim men have resorted to observing Friday prayers in a parking lot in the Italian city of Monfalcone, after being banned from praying inside their two local cultural centres. The ban was brought in by the Mayor, Anna Cisint, a far right politician backed by “The League” party, who said it was about planning restrictions in zones, rather than discrimination. One third of the city’s 30,000 inhabitants is an immigrant, mainly from Bangladesh and working in the shipyard.  AFP reports that The League has obstructed mosque openings in its stronghold of northern Italy and Islam is not among the 13 religions that have official status under Italian law, which complicates efforts to build places of worship. There are fewer than ten officially-recognised mosques for the country’s two million Muslims.

Church of England bishop moves

It has been announced that the Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, will retire on 9 October 2024, and the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Martin Seeley, will retire on 28 February 2025.

Rowan Williams says popular hymns today are primary school level

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has complained that hymns chosen for weddings, funerals and special events are those remembered from primary school, such as All Things Bright and Beautiful, which are bland and like “baby food”. He was commenting on a letter to The Times from Lord Lisvane, chairman of the Royal College of Organists, who said that the hymn  was “saccharine doggerel”. Lord Williams told The Times the “great classic” hymns had fallen from common memory, because secularisation meant they were not chosen in schools,  and “the unfortunate effect” is that “you have hymns that work at a primary school level.” He said a good hymn gives metaphors and pictures, telling a story, such as Love Divine All Loves Excelling, adding even Robbie Williams’ “Angels” or Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” appealed to the imagination. He urged local schools to do more hymn-singing and for religious education teachers to explore singing and chanting.


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